Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nature's Balance

National Geographic has an article this month on the Australian Cassowary.  I can recommend it for a number of reasons.
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Two chicks and the male (the male Cassowary raises the chicks - when small they ride in his feathers.)
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For science aficionados, it is interesting about a rarely covered subject.  For Nature fans, the pictures of Australia (and the bird) are gorgeous.  And for the short-attentioned among us, it is a quick read.
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But I found a throw away one of the most interesting parts of the story.
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The cassowary - a large flightless bird, fulfills a role that Ed, Lynn and I saw in Africa - that of the elephant.  That is the cassowary eats lots and lots of fruit, then deposits the seeds (which are undigested) along with ready made fertilizer through-out the forest.
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Many of the plants in the rainforest have developed to have the cassowary distribute them.
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Ryparosa Kurrangii folliage
One rare tree in Australia, the Ryparosa kurrangii, apparently relies excessively on the Cassowary.  Scientists have found that nuts from this tree have only a 4% growth rate if planted.  BUT, if planted after going through a cassowary's digestive system, they have a 92% success rate.
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Scientists can't explain this yet, perhaps some stomach enzyme helps a secondary germination - like fire does to chaparral.  In any case, I find it fascinating.
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The Fruit - pre-digestion
When you think of this, did some other giant bird (i.e. the dodo) also fulfill this function for a plant?  If so, then with the extinction of the dod, we might have lost a variety of plants - trees and flowers  - as well.  Makes you think.

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